JERUSALEM — Israeli lawmakers unanimously voted Monday to dissolve parliament, officially ending the legislature’s term two years ahead of schedule and kicking off the country’s election campaign ahead of a March 17 nationwide vote.
A week after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government dramatically disintegrated, the 120-seat Knesset voted 93-0 favor of disbanding and ending one of the shortest serving parliaments in Israeli history.
Early polls show Netanyahu likely returning to power. But a growing coalition of anti-Netanyahu factions threatens to depose the longtime leader.
Israel’s government, which took office in early 2013, had been riven by divisions from the outset over major issues facing the country. Netanyahu’s fractious center-right Cabinet had been bickering for weeks over the budget, a housing tax break and a bill that would enshrine into law Israel’s status as a Jewish state.
Netanyahu is looking to secure a fourth term as premier by increasing support for his hardline Likud Party. He hopes to secure a strong majority for a “national bloc” that includes his traditional allies of ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s nationalist Yisrael Beitenu faction and the hard line Jewish Home party, which is strongly linked to the West Bank settler movement. This bloc tends to take a hard line in peace talks with the Palestinians.
In the last vote, the parties earned a combined 61 out of 120 seats in parliament. The majority proved too slim for Netanyahu to rule effectively and he was forced to reach out to two centrist parties, Yesh Atid and Hatnuah, to shore up his majority. Netanyahu’s feuds with these parties led to his decision to fire their ministers and call a new election.
Hatnuah leader Tzipi Livni appears to be on the brink of sealing an alliance with Isaac Herzog and his center-left Labor party. A poll published Monday showed the potential joint list surging past Likud to become the largest party in the next Knesset. But it would still likely need the support or either Lieberman or the ultra-Orthodox for Herzog to replace Netanyahu as prime minister.